Adoration of the Magi

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Sandro Botticelli, Adoration of the Magi, 1476

By HARPER TRUOG

In The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli talks about religion as a necessary tool to maintain order among the masses. Machiavelli says that princes should, in the eyes of his subjects, be saint-like. A prince must appear merciful, but is not physically able to be holy. A strong leader has the mindset of doing everything necessary to keep himself in power and his subjects under control; the ends justify the means. Religion is an excellent way of uniting a group of people and support from a church only strengthens that unity.

Sandro Botticelli painted the nativity scene with several members of the Medici family, a wealthy family in Florence. Cosimo de' Medici, the head of the family, is the man kneeling before Mary and touching baby Jesus' feet. Cosimo de' Medici is not a religious figure and was inserted into the painting to display his power. By posing him close to Mary and touching Jesus, people would have assumed that he had some sort of divine power or right. Many people in powerful positions use religion to justify their rule and to unite their subjects.

Machiavelli also discusses if it is better for a prince to be feared or loved. He says that one should strive for both, but if a choice must be made, then fear trumps love. Fear is more consistent than love in people's reactions to a price. The painting by Botticelli is a subtle reflection of that fear. If Cosimo de' Medici is so important that he is on the same level as Mary and Jesus, then what will the retribution be if someone insults them? He is supported by divine figures that represent holiness and whoever crosses him will suffer consequences.

By painting members of the Medici family into a religious setting, Botticelli has elevated their status.

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